Riot police in Athens, Greece.
(photo credit: AP)
ATHENS, Greece — Greek police scuffled with about 500 anti-immigrant extremists, chasing some into a local church and firing tear gas inside Saturday. No injuries were reported.
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The extremists, who were throwing stones at officers, were angry about a demonstration in Athens by immigrants, unionists and human rights activists, who were marching against a planned fence on the Greek-Turkish border.
Official statistics showed that about 128,000 illegal immigrants entered Greece in 2010, most through Turkey, making Greece the busiest entry point for immigrants in the European Union. To stem the tide, the government has announced plans to build a 12.5-kilometer (8-mile) fence along a stretch of the Greek-Turkish border.
About 1,000 immigrants, joined by a few hundred Greeks, marched from central Athens to a neighborhood in the north that has been a flashpoint of anti-immigrant activities. Police prevented them from reaching the church of St. Panteleimon, the neighborhood's focal point.
Outside the church, hundreds of members of far-right group Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn, joined by some residents, were waiting to confront the protest march.
But riot police were determined to keep the two groups apart. Extreme rightists started berating the police, threw stones at them and attacked them with flagpoles. The police charged toward them and several dozen right-wingers sought refuge inside the church.
The police fired tear gas, including inside the church, made three arrests and, after about half an hour of clashes, the far right militants withdrew. Police remained for several more hours near the church, even though the protest marchers had also left the scene.
The neighborhood has a strong immigrant population, mostly from
Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and many Greeks living in the area
resent their presence.
"Greeks aren't having a good time...The quality of life has dropped here
in Greece. People who come from these places, from Pakistan,
Afghanistan, Bangladesh ... there are so many and they arrive in such
big numbers, that no one can control the situation," resident Nicholaos
Immigrants taking part in the march were upset at Greece's fence plan,
but even angrier at the country's very slow procedures in granting
permanent resident status.
"I have been here for three years. Every day just with the red
(temporary residence) card. To go and change it? Nothing. I cannot go
anywhere to change my life. I cannot go back," said Alhadj Sow, an
immigrant from Senegal.